Chances are, even if you don’t count yourself as a bona fide fan, you will know a host of Carole King songs. Whether they’re the hits she performed herself, or the countless iconic bops she wrote for other artists, King’s contributions to popular music simply can’t be underestimated. But it may surprise you to find out that she connected with Paul Simon — another equally totemic pop figure — when they were both in their teens. And this friendship helped shape their future careers.
A musical prodigy
King’s musical talent was obvious from childhood. At the age of four, her parents realized she could name musical notes simply by hearing them; her mother began giving her piano lessons. The prodigy was already composing her own songs at 13; it helped her cope with being the gifted child who was skipped ahead several grades in school. She once told NPR, “Music became a way of identifying my particular niche. How lucky for me.”
The Brill Building
As part of PBS’ American Masters series, Douglas McGrath — writer of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — spoke about King’s experience as a 16-year-old songwriter plying her trade in New York’s famous Brill Building. He revealed, “You could walk in, and they had a piano in the room, and you’d sit down and you’d play, and they’d go, ‘That’s great kid. I'll take that song. Here’s $25.’”
A confidence that belied her age
Songwriter Barry Mann — who co-wrote The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” — was also writing in Brill’s song factory at the time. He told PBS, “I was in the waiting room, and there was this kid there. She looked like she was about 15 years old, in jeans. And I started to talk with her. And I thought to myself, ‘God, this girl is so confident.’”
Mann continued, “I said to myself, ‘If this girl has talent, she’s going to be a huge star.’ And it happened to be Carole.” On the nature of the Brill Building, music critic Anthony DeCurtis said, “It was made-to-order songwriting. You know, you were either writing for a specific artist or you were writing a song that the publisher you were working for would go out and shop to various singers.”